As a woman who is not exactly white, I feel personally involved in the issue of whitewashing in novels and the whole default to white. I would like to see more characters with a diversity of backgrounds, and not just “friends” who are described as having “mocha” skin and “good hair”.
There are reasons why writers and publishers want to keep characters white, including the fact that they don’t want to alienate white readers (other readers are used to being alienated but whites aren’t). I’m not really up for the whole debate.
There are also reasons why writers and (mostly indie) publishers want characters of color, including the fact that they want to read characters like themselves. I fit this to a degree.
One of my WIP is about a girl who is “the blackest girl in school”, although she is not black. I’ve been that girl. But the story is not my story, and the story is not about race or ethnicity. The story is about a girl going through drama and wondering how to find her way out of it. She happens to be not quite white, just like me.
Since my character is not quite white, but lives in an area that is very white, she has a “white” name like Victoria. Her parents, however, are immigrants who have much more cultural names. The names help the reader see that that her family is not quite white without my having to point it out through skin descriptions (which are especially awkward in first person) and to show how close to the culture she is versus her parents. The names “show” what it would take a thousand words of description to “tell”.
Another way I have used names from other ethnicities is to give a diversity to the world of the story. It’s also a great way to use some interesting and exotic names. As long as the “ethnic” character is not just a friend or a waiter, and as long as that character has depth.
I would love to read more novels with characters that are not white where the story is not about the characters’ race or ethnicity (although race and ethnicity may affect the character during the story). I would love to see more characters that are not white on the cover of novels, especially when the character in the story is not white (true story). But mostly, I would like to read novels that accurately reflect the diversity of their setting and of the world.